More on 'Fiduciary Duty' of Leaders to Supporters (Updated)

By James Fallows

(Please see update below.) I tried to explain yesterday why staff members and supporters felt so betrayed when the politician to whom they'd committed time and treasure -- today it's Rep. Weiner, but over the years there's a long list from both parties -- turned out to be personally undisciplined in a way that let their side down. To be clear, this is not a "moralistic" judgment about whatever behavior caused the problem. No one cares about that in the abstract (unless it's really outre). Rather it's a judgment about carelessness that hurts other members of what is in effect a team. It's similar to the way the non-famous, beaten-up, often-injured linemen on a football team might feel if their glamorous quarterback is out all night drinking and then screws up in a big game.

A number of present and past political staff members have written in. Two samples:

>>As a former legislative assistant, might I also add to your recent post that the humiliations of one's principal also destroy our professional careers.  Putting Weiner on one's resume is pretty much the same as drawing one.<<

And:

>>I couldn't agree more.  For 11 years I worked on the Hill, all for honorable men- most recently for six years for [a very senior Democrat].  I once had a good friend who rose through the ranks to become legislative director [for a Republican who was caught up in the Abramoff scandal].  When [this Republican] was facing his own scandal, resignation, and conviction I ran into my friend at a bar.  I offered my condolences and said I'd help out in any way.  He basically said his career was over and he put it this way, "It's like going to college, working your tail-off, never partying, becoming student president and valedictorian, and then at graduation they tell you 'Sorry, we're actually unaccredited'."
 
The problem is these scandal prone members need course correction and discipline, but often times hire sycophants who will never correct them out of fear of losing their job.<<

And, on the foreseeable consequences for policy, a reader who does not work in politics writes:

>>As nobody could have predicted, the media has been completely focused on Anthony Weiner's body parts for nearly two weeks, and I have see not one reference to the fact that he was about to shed increasing amounts of light on Clarence Thomas's finances. Now, of course, nobody will listen to him.
 
I have no doubt that the timing of Weiner's outing was determined by the urgent need to defend Thomas from scrutiny, and the wagons were duly circled.... The bigger victory is that nobody significant will take up the Thomas questions, because the clear threat from Breitbart and his pals is: you do this, and look what we will do to you. They will find a way; they have a genius for it.
 
Are you aware of anyone seriously picking up the Thomas issues, or is everyone sufficiently scared now? Ideally it would be a member of Congress, with some privilege available to them. I don't see it though, either Congress or Press. It's depressing that the VRWC can so effectively silence where they want to, and all done with shiny objects.<<

I don't believe in the omnipotence of the VRWC. But Rep. Weiner understood as well as anyone that this was the landscape he was operating in. And he made himself vulnerable to this kind of attack. That's why people who work in politics are angry, and it's not -- or shouldn't be -- "moralistic" in the personal-behavior sense. It's about the morals at stake in the larger political struggles in which Weiner had until recently been a significant force.

UPDATE. A reader argues that the "duty" runs in the other way, in favor of Weiner staying in and fighting for his job and role:

>>I've read your recent posts about the Fiduciary Duty of politicians to their staff with great interest, but come away with the opposite conclusion: Rep. Weiner's fiduciary duty requires that he not resign.
 
This scandal is entirely survivable; compared to, say, Chappaquiddick, it's fairly insignificant.  If Weiner resigns now, this scandal will define him and ruin his staff's careers.  If he toughs it out, he has the potential to redeem himself, and by extension, his staff.<<

And, on prospects for Weiner's staff members, another reader offers this encouragement:

>>Perhaps the Weiner refuges will get sympathy as he's generally considered one of the worst bosses on the Hill!  E.g., Congressman Pushes Staff Hard, or Out the Door. <<

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/06/more-on-fiduciary-duty-of-leaders-to-supporters-updated/240180/